Racism. It is a very dirty word. By its very nature, it is exclusionary and derogatory. No one wants to be called a racist and no one wants to be a victim of racism. Race and racism were the two topics that stuck out during this term as the most important and interesting.
Race is an arbitrary measure of physical characteristic. “Classification” of people into individual racial categories does not mean that any one race has exclusive possession of any particular variant of gene or genes. Another arbitrary measure with regards to the “classification” of people is the fact that the differences within a population are generally greater than the differences among the population.
Race also is a cultural category. There is a false notion of injecting a biological difference into the concept of race to make it appear more factual and objective. The book notes that that in many ways, cultures define race beyond the color of skin, instead looking to things like religious, linguistic and ethnic groupings as races. This confuses linguistic and cultural traits with physical traits.
There is confusion between biological and social categories of race. For example, health statistics are gathered using the same Census Bureau categories for the purposes of correcting health disparities among social groups. In other words, the false biology of race is used in these analyses.
Racism is a doctrine of superiority by which one group justifies the dehumanization of others based on their physical characteristics. Two things contribute to the stereotypes among different racial groups; race and behavior, and race and intelligence. In regards to race and behavior, scientists have never been able to attribute any behavioral characteristics to any one racial group. To use an example from the book, high crime rates, alcoholism, and drug use among certain groups can be explained with reference to culture rather than biology. In regards to race and intelligence, we have to consider the fact that multiple intelligences have been identified, and there is no one “correct” intelligence. IQ tests are not accurate measures of innate intelligence. Attempts to prove the existence of significant differences in intelligence among the human population have been going on for at least a century. Another indicator of intelligence is the social environment in which a person lives. This indicates that social environment is important for the development of intelligence.
How does skin color enter into the equation? According to the recent research, skin color is simply an adaptation to the environment to which early peoples were exposed. If you lived close to the equator, you have a darker complexion if you live further from the equator, you have a lighter complexion. The myth that one’s intelligence is based on skin color is simply not proven.
Why is all of this important? It is important because race plays an enormous part in our lives. When we fill out a census form or a job application or even a college application, we are asked our race. We are judged, rightly or not on our race. In the United States, people have been judged on their race since the first slaves were brought over from Africa and the first Native Americans were kept as slaves. In our Eurocentric view, we view those with light skin as superior and those with dark skin as inferior. Martin Luther King longed for the day when people would be judged on their character rather than their skin color. We also must understand the root causes of racism and the definition of race and how it has been defined in order to more fully understand the biased view that still holds in today’s modern world.
Why does racism exist? The concept of racism began when anthropologists began examining human remains and determining the origin of the species. While determining the physical makeup and development of the human species, there were assumptions being made as to the intelligence and abilities of the early humans. Because of the smaller brain sizes of the early humans, it was believed that they were not as smart. As our anthropological knowledge increased, our racial knowledge remained the same, maintaining the tired old stereotypes of equatorial peoples being less adept then their European counterparts. Racism, then, is a generations-old stereotypical end result of poor anthropological conclusions. Each archeologist and anthropologist built of the work of their early counterparts, disseminating incorrect information throughout the academic world. It has only been within the last few years that the myth of race and intelligence has begun to be disputed.
Why is race so attached to us? Rightly or wrongly, our race is attached to us. I notice that virtually every form I fill out, every application that bears my name, has my race attached to it. From the census that I fill out to the application I completed to get into college, I had to give my race. Although I am told this information is not used in the decision making process, I always have to stop to wonder if at some base level race is being used to determine my admittance. When I apply for a job, I know I have to interview for a position. My race becomes abundantly clear. I wonder, am I being judged on the “content of my character” or the “color of my skin?” These questions among others float through my mind as I go through my life. Going through this semester, I have determined that these questions matter, that race and racism are questions that make or break us as human beings.
Racism also matters because there have been so many people that have fought for the rights that all races have. From the right to vote to the right to sit at the front of the bus, brave individuals of all races fought for the rights that we all share as human beings. We all are entitled to human rights, and fighters like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and others fought for those rights. Not only did they fight for the rights of the African-American race, but of all races that were disenfranchised and struggling to gain rights in a world that didn’t want them. In cases like this, race ceased to be a “color” issue and started being a cultural and economic issue.
Race also plays a role in our lives today. Racism still is not dead. We may have elected an African-American president, but we still have immense racial issues in this country. We still continue to judge people on their skin color and take the “traditional” anthropological views of the human species and apply it to the modern human. We fail to take into account the new way of looking at things and discard our old prejudices. While we are closer to looking at the world without the color barrier that has clouded our judgment, we still have a long way to go.
Ultimately, race and racism will continue to exist until the new theories of race and human development have taken hold in the minds of people and people begin viewing all people as humans and begin to see race as a cultural factor instead of a color factor. As stated earlier, part of race is the culture, language, and religion of a people, and not the color of their skin. We as anthropologists have taken upon ourselves to apply color to the definition of race and create an artificial barrier to the unification of the human race.
Anthropologists must continue to work towards the elimination of artificial racial barriers and work towards a new definition of race as a measure of ethnicity rather than color. We must continue to dispel myths about old and outdated anthropological writings and instead take the old clues and reinterpret them through the lens of modern science and technology. We as anthropologists and historians have a different world view and perspective. We must use it to create new understanding and dispel old racist ideals.
Haviland, William, Harald Prins, Dana Walrath, and Bunny McBride.”Chapter8: Modern Human
Diversity” The Essence of Anthropology. 1st ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage